Neither altitude nor the back end of a two-match road trip nor a late-game sprinkler-system delay could keep the Montana soccer team from picking up its third win of the season Sunday at Denver.
Sophomore Ellie Otteson’s goal in the 30th minute, her first of the season and fourth of her career, turned out to be the game-winner as the Grizzlies (3-0-1) picked up a 1-0 victory at DU’s CIBER Field to remain unbeaten through the first two weeks of the season.
“I thought it was a really good soccer match between two good, organized teams who were ready to play and played at a really high level,” said UM coach Mark Plakorus.
“A lot of times the difference comes down to finishing your chance or chances, and we were able to. I thought it was a great goal.”
After Montana weathered some strong early play by Denver -- the Pioneers had three shots and a corner kick in the opening eight minutes -- the Grizzlies settled in and started possessing the ball more.
They got on the board at 29:15 when senior Mary Gintz played a ball up the field to sophomore McKenzie Warren. Warren crossed it into the box, where sophomore Hallie Widner was charging toward the goal.
Widner, at the near post, couldn’t connect, and the ball continued, untouched, to an open Otteson, who redirected the ball past Denver goalkeeper Brittany Wilson.
The Pioneers (1-3-0) had quality opportunities for most of the game but only put four of their 11 shots on goal. Senior Kailey Norman saved all four for her 18th career shutout and 24th win.
“We did just enough to keep them off the board, because they had some good looks at it, that’s for sure,” said Plakorus, whose team came away with a draw at Wyoming on Friday when it wasn’t at its best.
“I’m really proud of my team. The second game of a road trip is always difficult and this was our fourth straight game on the road. I thought we were better today than we were on Friday, and that’s a good thing to see.”
Mary Dewalt put a header on goal for Denver in the 63rd minute that Norman saved, and the Pioneers generated three corner kicks within a two-minute window midway through the second half. All resulted in dangerous loose balls but none turned into goals.
Montana’s best opportunity to make it 2-0 came in the 83rd minute, when junior Kaitlin Crowell got the ball in space eight yards in front of the goal. A hard-charging Wilson shut down the threat.
Shortly after that, the sprinkler system at one end of the field came to life, which delayed a game that already had mid-half media timeouts for the regional television broadcast on Altitude an extra 10 minutes.
“That was pretty unique, but it happens every once in a while. I thought the girls dealt with it really well,” said Plakorus. “And with the other stoppages each half, I thought the girls dealt with everything really well.
“We used those breaks to catch our breath and get organized and make sure we were ready to go.”
At 3-0-1, Montana is not only off to its best start in six seasons under Plakorus, it is the first time in program history, including even the highly successful Betsy Duerksen era, that the Grizzlies are unbeaten through their first four matches of a season.
None of which overly impresses Plakorus, whose team travels to Pullman to face Washington State (1-1-0) on Friday night. The Cougars knocked off No. 13 Santa Clara three days ago in their most recent match.
“We’re doing some things better, but I think there is a lot for us to improve on. We need to lock down some things defensively and be a little better getting at the goal, but so far it’s been good,” he said.
“We’re excited to be where we’re at right now and excited about the challenge that sits in front of us on Friday.”
Montana and Washington State play at 8 p.m. (MT) on Friday at WSU’s Lower Soccer Field.